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Jason Sheeler | Photo: Laura Wilson and Peter A. Calvin, Courtesy of Highland Park Village | March 27, 2014
A sea change is making waves at Highland Park Village.
Before we even start talking about Highland Park Village—the opening and closings, the hotel that may or may not be going in where Anthropologie stands, the fate of those 1.8 million Christmas light bulbs glowing year round—let’s get this out of the way: Deno’s Shoe Repair is staying open. “Deno’s is staying,” Village owner Stephen Summers says with a laugh. “Are you kidding? I’d [personally] have to move.”
He still might. Since acquiring the Spanish-tiled shopping mecca known as the oldest outdoor shopping center in the United States from the Henry S. Miller family in 2009, Stephen and his wife, Elisa, along with co-owners Ray and Heather Washburne, have ruffled some feathers among Highland Park Village’s customers. Longtime faves such as Cooter’s Village Camera, Celebrity Cafe & Bakery, Rugby by Ralph Lauren, Williams-Sonoma and Pockets Menswear have closed or are to close, and office leases belonging to tony organizations Cattle Baron’s Ball and Crystal Charity Ball were not renewed.
Banana Republic, perhaps the last mall-type clothing store to share the Village’s 250,000 square feet of retail space, got the boot too. “Certain people don’t like that Banana Republic closed. But it was dying on the vine,” Stephen says simply, while mentioning that contemporary brands Diane von Furstenberg and James Perse have opened. “Look, we are the town square. We’ve invested to make it better.”
Better is one way of describing it—fancier, more upscale, more like Florida’s Bal Harbour Shops would be another. The Vogue-verified names that now dot the Village include Tom Ford, Stella McCartney, Christian Louboutin and Saint Laurent.
“Certain things you can’t save,” Stephen says. “Cooter’s we loved. But the camera business went away with the iPhone. We gave them free rent for a year. There is this perception that we are big, nasty bullies. But Rugby shuttered the brand [themselves].” Stephen pauses: “I love Williams-Sonoma. I wish we could still have it. That was a tough loss.”
Then, just as this story was going to press, longtime tenant Tom Thumb announced they were leaving the Village.
Stephen was in Milan for the fall 2014 Prada show when he found out online like everyone else. “That was jarring,” he says. “But not terribly surprising. There are other grocery stores very close-by. I don’t know what will go in there; we are definitely going to talk to the community. And now, of course, there are so many rumors. You have to wonder where this stuff comes from. Like the one I just heard, that Dean & DeLuca is going to open.” (By the way, Highland Park Village says Prada hasn’t signed a lease, but if you don’t want to wait for a press release, look to Stephen’s Instagram account. He recently posted a video taken at the Celine show and hashtagged it #cantwait.)
Acknowledging that a Dean & DeLuca N.Y.-style gourmet grocer would be “cool”—a word Stephen uses a lot—he says he actually doesn’t know what will move into that large space. “We are going to talk to the community, have focus groups. We want this place to be for the community. Like those lights; I mean, we take a loss keeping those lights on the trees. We spend a fortune on those. It’s a cool amenity—we’re about trying to provide a really cool experience for our customer.”
He also knows that a hotel in Highland Park Village would round out the Village experience, but would cause more traffic nightmares for Highland Park residents. “I would love to do a small boutique hotel,” Stephen says slowly, “but I am not sure it makes sense for us. But it would be fantastic for the retail and restaurants.”
Yes, it would be cool. Stephen mentions that he will talk about this at his weekly town hall meeting of sorts—while waiting with his wife and a hundred or so other Park Cities residents for a table at Mi Cocina. “Oh, they’ll let me know the gossip they’ve heard today. And all the things I should fix.”